Napoli hitting form at the right time at home and in Europe
MILAN (AP) — Napoli is hitting top form at precisely the right time of the season.
After a slump in which the team failed to win five straight matches in Serie A and got knocked out of the Italian Cup, Napoli is now on a run of three consecutive wins, scoring 10 goals in the process and conceding only one.
Two 3-0 wins in the league, either side of an impressive 4-1 victory at Wolfsburg in the first leg of the Europa League quarterfinals, has seen it close in on Roma and Lazio in the battle for Champions League places.
Key to its resurgence has been the form of midfielder and captain Marek Hamsik, who is showing signs of being back to his best after a poor start to the season.
“A season is made up of 60 matches, it’s impossible to be on top form always but I want to make as few mistakes as possible,” said Hamsik, who scored twice in Germany. “Winning is not down to one person but to all 11 on the pitch. Of course I want to extend my positive run for as long as possible.”
Napoli is attempting to win only its second European trophy, after Diego Maradona led the southern club to what was then known as the UEFA Cup in 1989. The Argentine could be in the stands on Thursday because he is in Italy, where he was meeting the pope at the Vatican on Wednesday.
Also, defending champion Sevilla travels to 2008 winner Zenit St. Petersburg, with the Spanish side protecting a 2-1 win. The other two quarterfinal matches are close after Dynamo Kiev and Fiorentina finished 1-1, and Brugge and Dnipro ended goalless.
Here are a few things to know about Thursday’s matches:
Wolfsburg’s task of overcoming a three-goal deficit has been made even more difficult because the Bundesliga club will be without midfielder Kevin de Bruyne and forward Andre Schuerrle.
De Bruyne has 10 goals and 18 assists, the best combined points in the Bundesliga, but will be missing because of a foot injury. Schuerrle, who is slowing getting into form after his transfer from Chelsea, has a shoulder injury.
Wolfsburg seems to be still recovering from the 4-1 rout at home. It was held to a 1-1 draw by Schalke in the Bundesliga.
Sevilla flew to St. Petersburg on Tuesday, aiming to emulate the team’s achievements there nine years ago.
On that occasion, Sevilla was defending a 4-1 first leg win, and held Zenit to a hard-fought 1-1 draw to advance to the Europa League semifinals.
This time, Sevilla is defending a 2-1 win with the semifinals once more in sight.
Sevilla coach Unai Emery took his team to the northern Russian city early in a bid to lessen fatigue, given Sevilla’s heavy match load.
So far, Sevilla has won 32 matches, drawn eight and lost 10 since clinching the Europa League title against Juventus.
Also, the team is aware that Russia has been a tough place for Sevilla, coming away with only one win from six visits.
“We have traveled with the conviction of knowing that we are the champions, although we’re sure it’s going to be a difficult match for us,” Sevilla president Jose Castro said. “It’s possible they might beat us in the size of their budget, and we know we’ll face a harsh environment, but they’re not going to beat our conviction and sheer will to win.”
While Napoli has been on a roll, Serie A rival Fiorentina is going through a miserable run.
The Tuscan side has lost its past two Serie A matches and been knocked out of the Italian Cup, as well as being held to a 1-1 draw in Kiev.
However, it can take heart from the fact that it has progressed six of the eight times it has played at home in European competition after drawing the first leg 1-1. Barcelona (in the 1997 Cup Winners’ Cup) and Juventus (in last year’s competition) were the only sides to knock them out.
It will be coach Vincenzo Montella’s 200th game in charge of Fiorentina. His record is 94 wins, 51 draws and 54 losses.
AP Sports Writer Nesha Starcevic in Frankfurt and Associated Press writer Harold Heckle in Madrid contributed to this report.